by Mike Shea on 28 January 2013
For five years of D&D 4th edition we've suffered with watching our boss villains get stun-locked in a corner and smacked up like a nerd in dodge ball (yes, I sympathize with the nerds in this metaphor). We've tried a variety of different techniques such as protecting our elite villains, adding status-effect-shaking powers for solos, or simply getting over it. Still, even at lower levels, our dragons get weakened and knocked prone while PCs dance around them taking 5 damage from breath weapon attacks and shrugging it off with 25 temporary hit points.
Today we're going to try a new way to get at this problem: the creation of a boss template.
This template empowers certain creatures, the key villains in our story, with some attributes that help them shrug off the effects that might otherwise remove their threat. Think of them like the blue and gold elite monsters we see in Diablo 3.
When we build this template we want to keep a few principals in mind:
It should be fast. Combat should run as fast or faster when we use this template.
It should be simple. We want to be able to apply this template in our head, without having to constantly reference things. We also don't want complicated mechanics. It should just work.
Let's look at the template:
This template is intended to boost the threat and challenge of specific named creatures. These are your primary villains in your campaign. It isn't intended for every elite or solo, just the ones that matter the most to your game's storyline. Save this template for those battles where a named boss really needs the help.
Its important that we have a story that ties to these abilities. For larger monsters, it can simply be their extreme age or power. For other villains, they might have tapped into a power source outside the realm of mere mortals. Some might be infused with the essence of the celestials or infernals. Some might be avatars of their God. Champions of the Sorcerer Kings might have a rune etched into their forehead that gives them protections beyond most. Come up with a creative reason for these effects, tie it into your story, and make sure it's consistent across your mini campaign.
Tell your players about this template early and make it clear when a monster has it. This type of house rule shouldn't come as a surprise. Tell your players about it, explain why it is needed, and make sure they know ahead of time when it is in play. Does this break the immersion? Yes. But we're in the middle of a game here, where players choose attacks based on cards and keywords and dice rolls. We can reveal the mechanics early to help them not waste spells they have been saving up. We still want them to enjoy those powers, yet they shouldn't expect to see them work so effectively on a named boss.
Now for a break from our topic, here's a short list of some of the best articles and biggest announcements about Dungeons and Dragons posted last week.